Book Review: THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, by Thomas Hardy

I came across Hardy via The Catcher in the Rye:
...That doesn't happen much though...You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. I read it last summer. It's a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn't want to call Somerset Maugham up. I don't know. He isn't the kind of guy I'd want to call up, that's all. I'd rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.
This reference sent me on a mission to find this Eustacia Vye, and find her I did.

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE is set on a heath (I had to look up what exactly a "heath" is: "...an extensive area of rather level open uncultivated land usu. with poor coarse soil, inferior drainage, and a surface rich in peat or peaty humus"), in Hardy's own little fictional Wessex.

The story goes roughly as follows: Clym Yeobright returns to the heath after several years spent in Paris, to find romance, scandal and tragedy awaiting him. His cousin, Thomasin, has been disgraced by the innkeeper, Damon Wildeve, who is in love with the aloof and haughtily romantic Eustacia Vye, who harbors certain feelings for Clym himself, whose Parisian lifestyle makes him more attractive to Eustacia than any dashing good looks or riches could do. Lurking in the wings is Diggory Venn, the mysterious reddleman who is quite taken with Thomasin but has been rebuffed--nevertheless, he makes it his mission to see her happily wed to Wildeve, if not to himself.

Whew. As you can imagine, this could be updated rather easily to a romantic comedy starring, say, Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock (though we'd have to fatten her up a bit to make a decent Eustacia Vye).

The many sets of star-crossed lovers and mistaken identities and narrowly missed opportunities make for a fantastic tale of romantic intrigue. Eustacia's lofty air, her idleness and her raven curls are a bit reminicent of Emma Bovary, but in a more frantic, funny way. Hardy uses the weather and the wildlife and the open loneliness of the heath to his story's advantage, setting the lovers' meetings against a pitchblack writhing sky, or a bare, blue one. The characters' feelings toward the landscape itself provide an interesting foundation for their actions and emotions--few things are more dramatic than Eustacia weeping on the heath at midnight, alone.

Also, THE NATIVE has the best chapter titles: "A Coalition Between Beauty and Oddness", "Sharp Words are Spoken and a Crisis Ensues", "She Goes Out to Battle Against Depression", "Rough Coercion is Employed" and more! I loved them, and took to reading them outloud, much to my husband's dismay.

I had little interest in Hardy before reading THE NATIVE, but now I shall go forth and hunt down his other novels, one by one, beginning with either Jude the Obscure (what a great title!) or Tess of D'Urbervilles (not so great--I can't spell that one). I'd rather like to call up old Thomas Hardy myself, though the fact that he's dead does present certain difficulties.



Yes, but do they dress themselves?

A couple doors down from our house is a costume shop. In the two months we've lived in this building, I've never once seen the shop open for business, and I'd just begun entertaining the action-packed thought that maybe the shop was really a front for a drug-running circle when I noticed, one morning on my way to work, that the window display had changed.

Previously, the assorted mannequins were all dressed in Egyptian garb--headdresses, Cleopatra kohl and all--but now, oh yes, they're all done up as pirates. Wussy, mannequin boys in knickers, with patent buckle shoes and cascading black ringlets; she-pirates in emerald velvet waistcoats. Bandanas and parrots and stilletto boots abound.

Oh yes. Shiver me timbers, indeed.


God is my DJ (part II)

To pick up where I left off in my previous entry:

What I remember from starting services at Breakwater Church before was the crackling energy of a new church--all of us so excited, so ready to go--and this Breakwater had none of that. Walking in the door, I felt something like sorrow--a new, deep humility that marked the faces of everyone I talked to, particularly Rick (my favorite person/head pastor mentioned in part I). Somehow, Breakwater has aged, but the change is very becoming.

There were no more than twenty people there, only a quarter of whom I knew from the old church, and we scooted our chairs up close to Rick as he gave his message; we closed our eyes and listened, we fiddled with key chains and sleeves. Kids played and giggled behind us as he spoke, and it was all deliciously unplanned--Rick let himself ramble, telling stories; as he closed the sermon he said, simply, "I'd hoped to say something really moving here, but...this meant a lot to me when I wrote it, you know, so maybe I'll just pray that God will do something cool for you, too."

All the churches I've been to in the last two years have had this in common: they have not been Breakwater.

Sitting in the very chairs I remember folding up after services, I realized that all I'd ever wanted in a church was for it to be Breakwater, and that, at some point, even Breakwater ceased to mean what it once had to me--a safe haven, a family, someplace to come and drink bad coffee and make noise, or to sit still and ponder.

Or to laugh. Which is what I did mostly.

Nostalgia was at work, sure--"oh, I remember that amp, and how the volume knob was so sticky, and sigh, I remember blah blah blah"--but something more was happening too, an intense gratitude that, through everything God's led me through (just because I didn't see him much doesn't mean he wasn't there), he should bring me back here.

Ah, home.

Book Review: MY DREAM OF YOU, by Nuala O'Faolain

So, an Irish travel writer needs a life change. She's fifty, she's been through a lot of crap lately, and so she gets interested in an affair between an English landlord's wife and a hired hand (happened in Ireland, the year after the famine) and decides to write a book about it--the catch in the whole affair is that it requires that Kathleen (said travel writer) return to Ireland for research, and she hasn't been home in twenty years.

The book is complicated, and rich. O'Faolain brings out a character in Kathleen de Burca that is so deep and true that Kathleen seems to be constantly changing--one minute I adore her, am sighing over the lovely thing she just said, and the next don't know what to think. How very like a real person.

DREAM's narrative is much the same--darting back and forth between Kathleen's experiences, her thoughts, her flashbacks, and the scenes she imagines for her star-crossed lovers, even bringing in some fascinating bits of Irish history, interwoven with the politics surrounding the potato famine.

I wasn't sure what to think of the book until I'd finished it. There are many threads winding their way through O'Faolain's tale--more than I could count, more perhaps than even O'Faolain intended, so that once I arrived at the close of the book I found the best sort of ending awaiting me: the sort, whether happy or sad or inconclusive, that draws from me that perfect response--"...but of course. How else could it be?"

MY DREAM OF YOU is bigger than any review, I think. It covers so much ground, and, though I didn't love it all the time, its complexity commands a certain kind of respect, and establishes with the reader a sort of relationship. Kudos, O'Faolain. Well done.



You can find anything on the Internet, if you look hard enough...

...including demotivational posters:


...or who you were in a past life:

In a Past Life...

You Were: A Greasy Viking.

Where You Lived: New Guinea.

How You Died: In Childbirth.

Also, ever seen the Leeroy Jenkins video? Well, I just found out that they have a whole website dedicated to all things Leeroy Jenkins--including a Leeroy J. techno mix to the tune of the Mortal Combat theme.

Please don't ask how I know the Mortal Combat theme--I can only blame my brother.


I like to play

Last night, my dear friend Shawnee rocked Fantasia Coffee & Tea with her acoustic guitar and her pretty, pretty voice, and I went and watched her do it. Today, thoroughly motivated, I wrote another song (I've been a songwriting fiend lately, and it feels SO GOOD), and then I sauntered down to Mojo Music to drool over guitars.

When the Mojo guys came by to ask if I needed any help, I sighed and said, "No thanks, I'm drooling." So true. Those suckers (Martin acoustic-electrics, I'd take any shape or size) are expensive. We're talking thousands.

My bubble is currently busted.

But, last night my other dear friend Morgan--who has been my one-person fan club since high school and who is leaving for Chile on Monday, not to return until December--told me that, when she comes back, she expects me to be having a show somewhere.

A show? Me?

My current plan, since I've been irritating my neighbors plenty by playing my white girl brand of folk-blues, or what have you, at full volume, is to record some songs on Mitch's nifty new sound card and post them here for downloadability. I've done it once before, many years ago, and I'm sure I can figure out how to do it again.

I am rambling. But I've been playing and singing and loving it all so much that I cannot contain myself (the other night I played so hard I made myself bleed. It was so cool), and watching Shawnee play in a real live show motivated me in some obscure direction... If I had a few less hobbies, I might make something of one of them--writing, playing, making jewelry, painting.

Oh, there is never enough time.

God is my DJ (part I)

Madeline L'Engle: If we feel that we already know something in its totality, then we fail to keep our ears and eyes open to that which may expand or even change that which we so zealously think we know.

Bertrand Russel: People are zealous for a cause when they are not quite positive that it is true.

So, guess what I'm doing tomorrow? I'm a-goin' to church!

This is something I do occasionally. I used to do it a lot more when I went through a rather fundamentalist phase, but the last couple years have been pretty church-free, due to the extreme dislike I developed for (O King of stereotypes) "churchgoing folk".

"Jesus save me from your followers" and so on.

See, the church I went to, the one where I figured God was alright after all, was really, really cool. Pastors under thirty, with tattoos and such; a funky downtown building; tons of punk rock Christian kids (I was one of them, I admit)--the place was my third home, and I played bass in the band, and we played such cool music...

But there was a falling-out or two among church members and pastors and we were included in all this mess, and these falling-outs resulted in Mitch and I (and several other people) leaving the church.

I was a sad little Christian. I'd lost my home.

I started clinging fiercely to certain beliefs--dying my hair back to brown, taking out my piercings, and so on, in an effort to seek out "who God wants me to be." I cleared out anything "unChristian" (oh, what a sad-sounding, hollow word) from my closet, my bookshelf, my CD wallet, and started memorizing Scripture to keep me afloat in these difficult, church-less times.

Adrift in a sea of strange churches, we tried a few, but quickly tired of the "we've never seen you here before; you must not be a real Christian" attitude, and so we decided that we much preferred coffee and eggs and toast on Sundays to offbeat clapping and small talk.

We stopped looking for God among the stained glass and dusty pews. We'd given up on finding him among the theater seats and strip lighting a long time ago, and figured that PowerPoint presentations were a sure sign of trouble.

Without the bubble that common belief provides, I began to let go of some of the rather alarming prejudices I'd accumulated ("unChristian." Pah). I developed an appreciation for Linkin Park, body piercing, red lipstick and fiction (God, what did I do without that?)--all things I'd loved dearly prior to my own private Middle Ages, but that I'd shunned on my well-marked road to holiness.

Not to God, necessarily. But to holiness.

And, oh, now I love such sinful things--margueritas and red wine, Harry Potter, tattoos and the word "fuck" (which I am still too timid to say out loud without checking for signs of imminent smoting). I just don't have time to go around feeling guilty for everything. It's exhausting.

This does not make me better than anybody, I know--that is perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned over the last few years. My road is not everybody's road--far from it. But I like it here, it's nice, and the scenery's constantly changing.

I am a happy Christian, if imperfect and always asking pesky questions.

As for what prompted this entry, I ran into one of my favorite people from my old favorite church today--and there has been a big overhaul. The church, which had moved from its funky downtown building to a strip mall in the gross suburbs and thus lost a lot of its congregation (Mitch and me included), has now moved into a funky old church in a funky old neighborhood close to downtown. The staff has changed significantly, and one of my other favorite people is now head pastor. The church is very small again. It is starting, essentially, from scratch.

Funny how things come around like that. I am thrilled by the possibility of going back, though I harbor no illusions that everything will be just like it was, oh no--I am very different, I am older, Mitch is too, and so is everyone else. To go to church, expecting nothing but to hang out with God for a bit, sounds fantastic.

...continued in Part II.


Oh no, they didn't! (But yes, they did)

While browsing through People magazine, I happened upon a full-page advertisement for a new made-for-TV movie. Some choice text from the ad:

It wasn't such a good thing.
Cybill Shepherd is MARTHA BEHIND BARS.
Domestic diva cleans toilets!
Martha teaches her cellmates arts and crafts!
Jailhouse tart baked with apples of shame!

Yup. Complete with photos of Cybill/Martha looking pensive as she gazes through thick cell bars at the camera.

I am not joking.


Mitch caught this fish...

...and it's a big 'un!


Book Review: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, by Truman Capote

Two things I've been half-heartedly meaning to do for a long time:
1) watch Breakfast at Tiffany's, and
2) read something by Truman Capote.

Funny coincidence that Capote wrote the book, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S? Who knew TIFFANY'S was even a book in the first place? Okay, well, I didn't.

At any rate, I came across TIFFANY'S in a used bookshop and found that once I started thumbing through it, I couldn't stop--I ended up twenty pages into it, wholly engrossed in Miss Holly Golightly, Traveling, before I managed to tear myself away to purchase the book.

Capote's writing is every bit like writing should be: crisp, concise, never laden down by excessive description, but certainly not leaving anything out. His descriptions are well-chosen, his sentences expertly designed--so well put-together that they feel accidental, as though they fell out of his pen, just like that.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is actually a long short story, so at the end of the book, three other short stories are included. All three of them are wonderful as well.

In fact, the only thing I could find to complain about was the fact that I had that damn "Breakfast at Tiffany's" song (who sings that anyway?) stuck in my head nearly the entire time I read the book. Bah. It's such a whiny song, too.



Baton twirlers are hot

I own three sweatshirts, and this morning, I opted to wear the gray, hooded one--which happens to have WESTERN stamped across the chest in blue "your-college-here" block letters. This, I realize upon entering the University of Washington campus, was not the best choice.

My mom, my stepdad Steve, Mitch and I are here for the Huskies vs. Somebody game--more specifically, we're here to watch my brother Ross play sax in the marching band--and everybody we encounter within the gates of UW's Campus is either a sorority girl, decked out for Formal Rush Week (think Mean Girls: The College Years), or a Husky fan.

The place is awash with purple and gold: Husky banners trail from pick-ups and sedans and RVs; men in Husky jackets and caps toast the game with Husky beer mugs; tacky gold W earrings wink from beneath carefully teased bouffants. Stuffed huskies, draped in purple and gold mardi gras beads, perch atop trash cans. Students rush by with pawprints fake-tattooed on their cheekbones, flaunting their "U of Wash" T-shirts; little girls in UW cheerleading costumes hang off their mothers' arms, and one old woman sports an eyecatching cap, which is completely covered in sequins--lavender, surrounding a gold W.

"They don't have a problem with Western here, do they, Mom?" I ask, folding my arms over my chest. I am sincerely concerned about getting mobbed--after all, I am pathetically outnumbered, and I've heard tales of the old-school feud that UW has going with Washington State.

Mom laughs. "No, down here they think you Western kids are nice."

I'll take nice, if it means not getting attacked by rabid Husky fans.


We left early this morning, after a brief tussle about our own Husky car flag (Steve wanted it up, proud and purple, heralding us as the half-hearted "I'm-really-here-for-the-marching-band" fans that we are, while Mom protested. Finally, the flag went up and stayed there, despite my attempt to sneak it back into the car), and, fortified with caffiene, we drove the 2 hours to Seattle in a comfortable, coffee-scented silence.

Once there, our first order of business is lunch, and this is a bit tricky, given the loosely interpreted rules about where you can and cannot have food around Husky Stadium. In Dempsey Indoor Stadium, for example, where Ross is playing in the pre-game "Husky Huddle", you can not have "outside food"--only the five dollar chili dogs available at Dempsey's concession stand.

So we spread our little hippie picnic out on a patch of grass near Dempsey Stadium, and unpack things like tapanade, olive bread, homemade brownies and Blue Sky All-Natural Soda.

And Baked Cheetoes.

I will say this: in the land of all things synthetic and impure, the Baked Cheeto is king. Not only is it tasty, fluorescent orange, and available in a wide variety of textures and cheese-related flavors, it also offers the comforting illusion of being good for you.

I love Baked Cheetoes.

When we finish licking the last sticky orange remainder of lunch off our fingers, we head into Dempsey, which is, of course, awash in purple and gold--and today is, oh joy, Husky Band Day, which means that Dempsey is packed with kids from high schools all over Washington, here in uniform to watch the Husky Band at work.

Thirty bands worth of high school kids. Hoo-rah.

We find a spot on the Astroturf and settle in, hoping that Ross will be somewhere within eyesight once the show gets going--and we don't have long to wait to find out, because, a few minutes after we shrug off our raincoats and shuffle around, trying to make the most of our standing room, the Husky Band drum line sprints out onto the 'turf, pauses for the briefest of seconds, and then proceeds to beat the hell out of their snares, cymbals and bass drums.

I love the drum line. Boy, with those drums they communicate some wild excitement; they deliver an intense anticipation of something, I do not know what--only that, in my case, it is not football. I couldn't care less about the football, honestly, but I really like the drums.

With the drum line, out come the cheerleaders, and they are everything one might expect from cheerleaders: purple panties flashing beneath white pleated shirts, lean muscular legs, interchangable faces, and vari-colored hair ironed into sleek curtains.

They do handsprings and backflips, they bust out the pom-poms, while the boy cheer squad (oh, yes, the boy cheer squad) pumps their collective fist and chants something that I cannot catch.

I'm bouncing on the balls of my feet, clapping, as the rest of the band sprints out, purple and white uniforms crisp and accented by a glint of brass. There are nearly two hundred musicians, spread out over the front of the indoor stadium, and, though it's tough to look cool in a band uniform, I'd say that most of them manage it pretty nicely--and that my brother, who is well over six-feet tall and standing dead center in front of us ("Yes!" my Mom calls over the drums, "How's that for luck?"), looks mighty tough in his Husky threads.

But perhaps I'm a bit biased.

So the band leads us in some rousing renditions of "Tequila" (we all know the words to that one), UW's fight song "Bow Down to Washington" (surely one of the weirdest songs ever written) and, ah, yes, "Louie Louie."

That'd be the one where the whole sax section gets up in front and dry-humps their horns for the duration of the song--while playing the lead. It's rather impressive, I must say. (Quote from my brother, later that night: "God, my quads just burn--I mean, you can only hump a saxophone for so long...".)

Partway through the show (cue theme music)...out comes the baton twirler. Pretty and blonde, decked out in a sequined leotard (yup, complete with a gold W over her midriff), she is...possibly stupendous? I'm not sure there's actually a word for it, but wow.

The only thing I've ever seen to rival her for hotness was at a funk show in Salt Lake City, when a dread-locked, bandau-topped, tattooed girl stood off to one side of the dance floor and executed all kinds of hula hoop moves that I'd never dreamed possible--shimmying the hula hoop from ankle to waist, waist to neck, neck to the fingertips of an extended arm, and back down again; whipping the hoop around her body, limb to limb, without any evident pattern, all while keeping perfect time to the music.

That was probably the coolest thing I've seen in a long time, followed very, very closely by UW's baton twirler.

Oh yeah, and I saw a firedancer once. That was cool, too.

So the baton twirler juggles and tosses and somesaults and smiles, as the band plays, dances, and occasionally sings, and all the while the cheerleaders shake their booties, pompoms and hair, and throw each other around.

Mitch and I elbow each other constantly, pointing and calling, "Ooo, look over there," while trying not to miss our cue to shout "Go Huskies!" or "Tequila!" or whatever.

By the time it's all said and done, and the last tassled cap has marched out through the stadium door, I'm thoroughly overstimulated.

And tired.

And the football game hasn't even started.


Okay, let's just say it: football is weird. Does any game really need that many rules? C'mon.

Halfway through the first quarter, as Mitch is explaining to me what the hell a touchback is, I decide that there's really no point asking "What just happened?", when any explanation will require five minutes, several diagrams and some elaborate hand gestures.

Eh. At least I know what a touchdown is.

In keeping with Northwest tradition, it looked miserable this morning, making us all think jackets, hats and sweaters were necessary, but by noon the sun's out and shining and I would trade a whole bag of Baked Cheetoes for my sunglasses, which I mistakenly left in the car (O cursed lack of foresight! How could I be so blind?).

As I my eyes glaze over with inattention, I watch the planes zoom in close overhead on their way in or out of SeaTac (I can just hear the captain: "...and to your left, you'll see Husky Stadium, where a game is currently in progress--the Huskies are probably losing again, so you might not want to look..."), fiddle idly with my pile of discarded clothing, and stare unabashedly 'round at the crowd.

Finally, I pinch my mom and ask if she has a pen. "Why?" she squints at me, "what for?"

"...take notes," I mumble, and she laughs.

"You're not going to blog about this, are you?"

"Maybe," I say, but by then she's given me the pen, so ha! I dig out my trusty notebook and start scribbling.

Somehow, I make it to halftime, and I get all excited about seeing the band march and make funny, purple shapes on the field...but to my dismay, all the high school bands start filing onto the field with the Husky Band.

Combined, they take up the entire field. There will be no marching, I can tell.

Instead, they serenade us with a rather spotty version of "New York, New York" ("For your halftime confusion," Mitch narrates for me, mimicking the announcer's voice, "thirty-two different bands will play thirty-two different renditions of the popular Frank Sinatra tune, 'New York, New York'--at thirty-two different tempos!").

And then the game's back on.

To summarize: what the crap?! The Huskies won!


After the game, we do a bit of shopping on University Ave., because I need more of my favorite notebooks, and I only know of one store on the West Coast that carries them, and Steve wants another Husky flag for the car.

"So we can have one on each side," he says, and I swear he's smiling mischeviously. "Like a hearse!"

Mom rolls her eyes. Ah, how well I know that look.

We shop, we eat burritos, we drop Ross off at his frat house and say good-bye as Mom hands him a parting gift of laundry detergent, brownies and $10 in quarters.

"Go forth and do laundry!" We call, as we climb back into the flag-bedecked car and hit the road. The only tough spot on the way home comes when Mom tries to roll her window down, nearly tossing one of the Husky flags into traffic.

"Oops," she says, as Steve reaches over her seat to snatch it out of the window and save it from almost certain demise--but not before a passing car (whose driver is, I notice, wearing a purple and gold windbreaker) spies the flag and gives us a solemn, supportive thumbs-up.


Alright, Freud: tell me what I wished for

When I was a wee lass, my dad taught me this very important thing.

No, wait, I can see you cringing, and I know what you're thinking, but don't worry--this isn't a childhood story. This is cool, I promise.

So, probably I'd just woken up from some nightmare or another, and my dad came in to comfort me and tell me it's not real and blah blah blah, but what he said was this: if you can wake up just the teeniest bit, you can change your dreams, or you can at least make your bad dream a happy one.

Yeah, yeah, okay, stop calling us hippies and listen. His example was, if you're having a dream where you're falling, well, figure out how to fly. It's that simple.

I had forgotten about this completely, because it's not often that I have nightmares--usually I just have these bizarre, startlingly vivid dreams that sometimes come in narrative form, so I can write them down when I wake up and maybe pass them off as fiction some day.

The other night I had a dream that I'd cut myself, and I was out of bed and in the shower before I managed to convince myself that my left thumb was okay--I kept favoring it and trying to shampoo my hair one-handed. Doesn't work well, I can assure you.

That same dream, I dreamt I had another tattoo, and I remembered it well enough that I was able to sketch it out later that day. Crazy, huh?

So usually, I don't want to change my dreams.

But last night...whew. Last night I had a bad one. After some unremembered chain of events in which I betrayed somebody and found myself separated from Mitch, I ended up on a beach. Not just any beach, either. This was the creepiest beach I've ever seen.

To my right was an abandoned train trestle, slick black and slimy, and covered in wormy shapes that stood out from the pilings like fingers. Beneath the trestle stood some six-inches of brackish water.

As I watched, a creature that roughly resembled a young alligator, but black and sticky and without eyes, crawled over the trestle and dropped into the water--which covered the creature more completely than such shallow water should.


To my left was a stretch of pale, rocky beach, which was covered entirely by the bleached skins of thousands of gray-and-white snakes, Because there were so many (none of them were more than a foot long), there was no telling whether all of the snakes were mere skins...

Behind the beach was a range of low, jagged, jet black mountains.

(Still shivering)

The color in the dream was all bleached out. Anything that wasn't solid black was gray, or a sick-looking olive green. The water in front of me was nerve-rackingly still, and I stood on the only bare patch of sand.

Not a sound. After the scary-gator dropped into the water, nothing moved--not even me. I knew, like you know things in dreams, that I had to go one way or the other, but both looked terrible and neither worth choosing. So I stood still.

And then I remembered, hey! I don't have to be here! Who writes this stuff, anyway? I wondered. I want to dig them out of my subconscious and have 'em fired!

So I started trying to think up a big, nice-looking bird to come swoop down from the sky and carry me off--but because the dream felt so bad and mean, the best I could do was a hawk. Okay, a giant hawk, I thought, and kept concentrating until a sound broke my attention with a resounding snap.

Over the mountains came a huge, huge--let me reiterate: HUGE--wave, and it dropped right into the scary water and all of it came rushing toward me, snakes and scary-gators and all, and the best I could manage was to lift myself up, inches above the water so that as it rose, I felt only a bit of spray on the backs of my legs.

Bird! I kept thinking, as the water rose and I rose slowly, slowly, C'mon, bird!

And it must've showed up at some point, because I woke up.


My (very) minor mischief

Yes, today is a day for minor mischief. I don't know what it is--perhaps a trying week, perhaps a certain anxiety knotting itself up around my collarbone--but today I cannot contain myself. Or, okay, I can contain myself, but just barely.

As I walked past City Hall this morning, on my way downtown, I noticed that a 10-man protest was underway, picket signs and all--something to do with electrical inspectors, or a shortage thereof. Anyway, it was not the protest that caught my attention, oh no--it was the camera crew. On the pretty lawn of City Hall stood an honest-to-God news reporter, staving off the rain with a knee-length jacket (a gray color, inevitably called something savvy like "slate" or "charcoal"), speaking calmly to the cameraman as the wind did a number on his salon-styled hair.

The camera was rolling.

And my clear shot at the sidewalk directly behind the stoic reporter awoke something devious and wonderfully childish in me. I wanted nothing more in the world just then than to commit some playful act of mischief--nothing so high-brow as flashing or streaking, no, all I wanted was to run up behind the reporter and make a face, stick out my tongue and give him bunny-ears. Something like that.

Oh, but I stifled the impulse and went on my way, smirking. I contained myself, but just barely.

Later, at my favorite coffee shop, I ducked into the ladies' room and noticed that someone had written "INDICT BUSH FOR CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE" on the little chalkboard near the toilet. I rubbed out BUSH and wrote YOUR MOM. And then I chuckled to myself. So juvenile. So unabashedly immature.

Later still, I impulse-bought a cheap bottle of Royal Red nail polish and spent the better part of the afternoon painting my finger- and toenails a deep, glamorous, '50s starlet-style red. (I am usually of the "clear or none at all" nail polish persuasion, and so I made a spectacular mess of it.)

Now I am typing daintily, trying not to ruin my nails.

Book Review: LIKE LIFE, by Lorrie Moore

What, you've never heard of Lorrie Moore? Damn shame, really. She's so clever, her writing is so pretty and her books so skinny that I think everybody should know who she is and read her regularly.

LIKE LIFE is a collection of her short stories, published long ago (like, 1990, or something), and full of fun, perky descriptions. The stories are almost fairy tales, they feel so lively and radiant, but the majority of them are underscored with a certain sorrow, a pervasive feeling of something missing.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, her novel, is also very good. You could read either of these (or both, if you're extra-speedy) in a weekend, and they're excellent for bribing yourself through a long, difficult book that you're determined to read (haven't you figured it out? That's how I got through Sophie's World--"if you finish this chapter, you can read a Tobias Wolff story, and if you finish the one after that, you can read a Lorrie Moore! Good girl!").



Book Review: SOPHIE'S WORLD, by Jostein Gaarder

Subtitled "A Novel About the History of Philosophy," SOPHIE'S WORLD is, yup, about the history of philosophy. And since it's right there on the cover of the book, well, I really should've seen it coming--but I suppose I held out hope that SOPHIE was more "novel", less "history of philosophy"...

But alas. I hoped in vain.

Gaarder packs a lot of information into a rather flimsy, though no doubt intriguing, plot about a girl in Norway (right? She is in Norway, isn't she?) who finds a mysterious envelope in her mail box--no stamp or nothin'--that asks the simple but oh-so-complex question, Who are you? And so Sophie finds herself involved in a philosophy course, taught by a shady stranger who drops envelopes into her mailbox at night.

Okay, we're starting off all right, here. But then you must keep in mind that probably 75% of the text are the actual pages that Sophie's reading for her course: page after page about Socrates and his pals. And this was interesting, but it was nothing beyond what I'd learned in Philosophy 101. My point: either the plot or the information needed to be stronger in order for them to hold each other up--but in this case, neither were particularly sturdy. Both were "interesting", but neither had much muscle at all.

Generally, I can't stand novels written with an agenda (like, oh, Left Behind or The DaVinci Code, both of which I've read and neither of which I particularly cared for). The information may be interesting as all get out, but I always feel cheated because the characters tend to be embarrassingly shallow, since they were fabricated out of sheer necessity to fit into some weak plot in an effort to get the Information across.

Rayford Steele. Seriously.

Now, to back up a step, Sophie and her mysterious philosophy teacher aren't as lame as Rayford Steele and Co., but they're never allowed to develop much--not as characters. Sure, Sophie starts questioning her existence, and she's a clever, feisty girl, but something vital is missing--and I think the problem lies in the fact that she resembles more a high school philosophy teacher's ideal student, rather than an actual high school student.

She's a bit too feisty, too eager to learn.

And so it is with each of the characters--they tend to match what you might think a skeptical mother, or a mysterious philosophy teacher, or a kind father might be like, rather than feeling like a character you know by the end of the book. A character so vivid, they feel like a real person.

The philosophy stuff is interesting, especially if you're interested in philosophy, but it didn't really get my attention until ridiculously late in the book, with the introduction of Kierkegaard, Neitzsche and Freud (Wow. All those names are very difficult to spell). Those guys are fascinating. Plato and pals I've heard about lots of times, but Freud? He's bizarre. But fascinating.

To wrap it up: I spent an awful lot of time wondering what was happening, and then I spent a lot of time wondering why it was happening at all. The story's kind of fun, but it's strangely awkward (perhaps a translation issue, or just awkward writing?) and the characters, alas, are a bit thin.

If you're into philosophy but not into text books, check it out. If you're into novels primarily, but with a slight aftertaste of philosophy, you might pass this one by.



America, let's step it up a notch

The name "Princess" was ranked 748 in the 1,000 most popular baby names in America for 2004.

My name (Thea) did not make the cut for any of the last 25 years.

Forget Big Brother--I'm watching you

In high school, I ran these dinky websites where I'd rant about my problems and my poetry (see how I've matured! Now it's my problems and my bookshelf), and a lot of the hosting sites offered free web counters so I could monitor how many people happened upon my site.

I was a big fan of the free web counters. They made me feel popular. Now, the sad thing was that, if my counter hit 100, chances were good that, say, 92 of those would be me checking to see if anybody'd signed my guestbook, and the other 8 would be a couple of friends and my parents.

As I'm sure you can imagine, it got sort of depressing. After a while, I didn't feel popular at all.

So, when I set up this blog, I was a little reluctant to dig into the web counters--but when I did, hoo doggie! Technology, she is a-changin'!

For example, now I don't have to post a counter right on my site where all the world can see that, wow, 5 people have visited my site. No, I get a tasteful little graphic (with an alarmingly Gestapo logo) that sits off in my sidebar, slyly counting folks as they pass through the turn-stile.

And then--get this--I can go check my Site Stats and see who's been on my site.

That's right. Not "how many" people have visited my site, but "who".

Yeah. I can look at what sort of browser you folks are using to read this. What kind of computer you've got. How many times you've been back. I can see what site you were referred from--did you get here via bookmark? From my profile? Were you randomly shuffled here, courtesy of the Next Blog button? I can find out.

Dunno about you, but damn, that makes me paranoid. I mean, if this is the free technology, what're the guys with money finding out?

(The moral of this particular story? Leave me comments, so I don't have to resort to spying. I like you. I want to know you were here.)

Book Review: THE NIGHT IN QUESTION, by Tobias Wolff

The journal where I volunteer has this "Tobias Wolff Fiction Award" that they give out every year, and I've always felt a bit awkward checking in entries for awards when I've never read anything by the authors they're named after--but only I would feel weird about that.

So I set out to read Tobias Wolff. I mean, he's not just an award-winning author, is he? He must be a master at the short story to get short fiction awards named after him.

And that's pretty much right. I never quite got into Raymond Carver (the American master of the short story, or whatever titles have been ascribed to him). Never cared much for his selfish, whiny, "true-to-life" characters, though there was something lively and direct to his writing style that I appreciated. Tobias Wolff takes that liveliness and runs, creating stories around characters that I don't have to like in order to enjoy (make sense?), putting them in situations where I can't help but feel oddly unified with them, whatever decision they make, for ten or fifteen pages.

The man's pretty much a short story genius. He creates these little scenes where something significant happens, though you're not always sure what--not even after you finish the story. Wolff drops you right in the midst of things, giving you only what's necessary to help you find your bearings--he never states a character's age or race or location outright, but feeds it to you hint by hint. I think this is brilliant.

I really hate it when an author sits a character in front of a mirror, to put her make-up on, say, and then describes in boring detail what she looks like and how she feels about her looks, blah blah blah. It just feels so gimicky--"here, let's take a break from the story and make sure you can picture the main character, right down to the gap between her teeth." I much prefer when an author sneaks something crucial in by making mention of a certain gesture, or a favorite drink. Doesn't matter much then what she looks like, physically--how a favorite dress fits can give a much clearer indication of what sort of person she is. Example:
She had on a sleeveless dress, yellow with black flowers, that she knew to be ugly and wore anyway, because it made people conscious of her.

--"Sanity", p. 75
I like this directness in short fiction. When authors mess around forever making sure that I have the feel of the story just right, I get annoyed. Wolff is very kind about not doing that.

My favorite story in the collection? "The Other Miller". Oh yeah, and "Bullet in the Brain." Whew.



Jobs I always wanted (I haven't lost hope yet)*

Namer of paint chips.
I love the paint section of Fred Meyer, just because they have those whole displays of paint chips with names like Caribbean Green, Hula Hoop Pink & Fine Wine. I could do that, I know I could. Just set me up in a lab with some paint samples and away I go!

Inferno Orange. Cloudless Summer Sky. Semi-dried pine needle Green.

I'd be happy naming nail polish, too. "Not your mother's Seashell Pink." And so on.

"Candice Steele has it all: a hot career in publishing, a boyfriend so sexy that even grandmas stop and stare, and flawless fashion sense. There's only one hitch--she's also a werewolf."

Seriously. That blurb may be a paraphrase, but I did read something alarmingly similar to it on the back of a novel. With some slight twists in language, that book could sound a little less like trash (maybe only a little, but that's something) and more, well, interesting:

"Publishing executive, Candice Steele--". "What Candice's lover doesn't know is--". "...but in a dramatic twist of events, Candice becomes--"

No. Nevermind. There's just no saving that one.

Reviewer of books.
I do this one for free, you know.

And would somebody please pay me to write? That would just make my day.


*Though I am ridiculously pleased with my current job (don't worry, Ed).

I am a Mean Girl

Which Mean Girl are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

(You're right, I probably do have too much time on my hands.)


The Temple Bar

Today, Thursday, is my lucky day. I snag what I consider the best of the tables at the Temple Bar--just left of the door, and surrounded by windows, therefore ideal for people-watching--and sit down.

I smell like work (what is that? Chemical mint and fluoride? There's no telling, but it's a distinctively dental smell), and I feel like a week's worth of good news and bad news has alternately lifted me up and thrown me to the ground. Bruised and weary, oddly elated, I order a glass of the house red wine and start pulling books and notebooks (yes, plural) from my bag.

I love the Temple Bar, I really do. Something about the sturdy, thick-grained tables and the red glass votives that flicker, warm and snug, on the table tops, catching reflections of themselves in wineglasses and windows, appeals to me on a very cozy level. White Christmas lights, good music, red velvet cushions. Pretty much my idea of heaven.

The waitress brings my glass of wine, deftly sliding a coaster across the table toward me. She is very pretty, with honey-colored hair in a pixie cut, strange silver-fringe earrings and a pale blue top. "Oh," she says, noticing my book, "I read that."

This is a line that works on me every single time.

"Really?" I ask. "What did you think?"

The sun is setting and, ray by ray, it slinks across the pages of my book. I am distracted, looking up every time somebody walks by, watching them round the corner. I make notes; I draw sketches of strangers in my notebook; I realize that everybody in Bellingham is beginning to look vaguely familiar.

By the time Mitch shows up to meet me and walk with me home, I've read less than five pages of Sophie's World, scribbled half-a-page worth of notes on complete strangers, and my wine glass is empty but covered with fingerprints.

I have done nothing; I feel magnificent. My very long week is ending.


What I say when I'm sick of talking about feelings

For some reason, I'm feeling prone to self-reflection right now, and since it bores the hell outta me to read overly introspective rants on other peoples' sites, I figured I'd spare you and focus instead on this single, indisputable fact:

I ran 2.3 miles today.

I just walked in the door feeling triumphant, like an animal, having beaten my previous record of 2.0 without even batting an eyelash. I own these sidewalks, they're mine now. That's right.

I'm sweaty, and I'm feeling pretty good. You don't need any more than that, do you?

(Yeah, okay. Two miles isn't much in the land of Serious Runners, but I beat my record, and that's enough for me.)

Book Review: A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN, by Virginia Woolf

How is it possible that I made it through an entire English program, emerging with a degree and everything, without ever reading Virginia Woolf? And how, despite the several Women's Lit classes under my belt, did I miss A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN?

This skinny, brilliant book needs to be read, again and again, by anybody (man, woman or otherwise) who reads, writes, thinks, or imagines themselves intelligent. I honestly had no idea that Woolf was so articulate, so well-read, so...oh, such an author, and having finished ROOM, I'm now off to by anything ever written by or about her.

I read the book much too fast, and I know there's nothing for it but to come back to it again later. Woolf packs so much insight into her study of women & fiction (I repeat: everybody should read this book. It's not the feminist propaganda it's been made out to be, or I didn't think so, at least) that I don't think I could possibly understand it all, not yet. ROOM is one of those books to be read again every few years (like The Catcher in the Rye), because each year will lend a bit more color to my reading, and each reading, some different different bit of knowledge will step forward and show itself in a new brilliant light.

The conversational tone that Woolf takes (ROOM was originally given as a lecture, if I'm not mistaken) lends the book a very casual feel, as though Woolf were merely thinking out loud--in a much more articulate voice than I ever use when I'm rambling. Perhaps this is only a device she employs to put readers at ease as she explores her somewhat controversial subject, but, for whatever reason she chose, this tone enabled ROOM to come across as more a collection of musings, than as a manifesto.

But by "musings" do I in no way mean to imply that Woolf just jotted down some fluffy, inoffensive thoughts on "Women", and some on "Fiction", and left it at that. Oh, no.

There is something beautifully assertive, and not in the least bit timid, about her writing, no matter how casual she sounds. Her points ring perfectly, without ever resorting to anger or indignation--in fact, Woolf warns against the stain discontent can leave upon otherwise flawless writing:
Now, in the passages I have quoted from Jane Eyre [the scene in which Jane sits up on the roof, and gazes out over the fields, lamenting her confined life], it is clear that anger was tampering with the integrity of Charlotte Bronte the novelist. She left her story, to which her entire devotion was due, to attend to some personal grievance. She remembered that she had been starved of her proper due of experience--she had been made to stagnate in a parsonage mending stockings when she wanted to wander free over the world. Her imagination swerved, and we felt it swerve.

--p. 73
Woolf upholds this wonderfully in her own writing (which, as I've said, in my experience so far only contains this book), never swerving, never allowing herself to be diverted by bitterness or frustration, however bitter or frustrated she may have felt while writing A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN--because it would be difficult for any woman to study the condition of women throughout history without feeling at least a little angry.

The book is simply brilliant. Now I must go find Mrs. Dalloway (I keep saying that, don't I? I ought to just do it).



The Birthday Cake Chronicles

7:30 am. I've never baked a cake before. I am a big fan of baking, and of baking things from scratch, but this is to be my first foray into layer cakes: a devil's food chocolate cake, with chocolate-orange glaze and butter-chocolate filling.

Who knew there could be so many different kinds of chocolate? The recipe calls for Dutch-processed cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate. Good Lord.

Today is Mitch's birthday, hence the birthday cake. I suppose I'll report back later, and let you know how the layer cake went.

(Happy Birthday, Mitch!)

10:29 am. So I put the new Beck CD on and rocked out while as I combined/mixed/boiled/brought to room temperature/added 1/3 of a certain mixture to 3/4 of another...Generally, I made a mess and wondered several times, aloud, if I'd even read the recipe before I got started.

1/2 c. of rather pricey "Dutch-processed cocoa powder" bit the dust when I had the inspired idea of dumping it into the pan of boiling water, rather than add the water to the cocoa as the recipe suggested. Ah, well. I scrapped that one (think chocolate cottage cheese, rather than the "smooth, dark mixture" the recipe described) and began again--the second mix looked smoother & darker, but still not quite like the picture.

The batter's tasty, though. The cake's been in the oven not five minutes and I've already got a stomach ache.

11:02 am. The cake is out of the oven and--get this--it still looks like a cake, minus some thumb-shaped dents I accidentally inflicted upon it with my oven mit. Test sample from the bottom of the cake pan confirms that, not only does it look like a cake, it tastes like one, too.

Cake is currently cooling.

1:47 pm. I had no idea that making frosting required so much muscle. Just finished chopping a full pound of assorted chocolates (semi-sweet & bittersweet), and fashioned them into a filling and a glaze. I made a mess of the cake plate, but I'm calling those wayward swipes of chocolate a "garnish". No one will know the difference.

The cake is in the fridge; the glaze is hardening.

I smell like baking chocolate and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

3:36 pm. Went down to the corner store (yes, we actually have a corner store) for vanilla ice cream and birthday candles. The woman in front of me in line had a lovely green bird perched on her shoulder that I'd recognized from downtown--ordinarily her husband/lover/odd bachelor brother(?) carries the bird and it makes me laugh because he, with his big white beard and black eyebrows, looks remarkably like a pirate, even without the bird.

When I brought the candles home, I broke the news to Mitch that he is now officially too old for a single box of birthday candles. (He's twenty-six.)

6:55 pm. I tried to take a picture for you, but my camera was feeling cantankerous, so I will describe it for you in the traditional way: with words.

It was a chocolate cake.

And it was scrumptuous. First, I artfully arranged the birthday candles (all twenty-five of them) in a 26, so that when I lit them they went up in a single, dramatic blaze, which was rather alarming. We turned the fans on and the smoke alarm off until Mitch had a chance to blow out his candles, and then we dug in.

I have to admit, it wasn't as gooey as I'd hoped, perhaps due to the "white wheat pastry flour" the girl at the co-op recommended in place of the cake flour called for in the recipe--seemed strange for a chocolate-y death cake to taste, well, healthy, but there you have it. Leave it to the co-op.

I call it a triumph, though. It looked like a cake, and everything.

Death by corn syrup. Mmmm.


Book Review: FIGHT CLUB, by Chuck Palahniuk

I refused to see the movie until I'd read the book (yes, I'm one of those). When I did finally read FIGHT CLUB, though, I built a nice fire, made some coffee, curled up on the couch and read the whole thing in a single day--a single weird, Palahniuk-infested day, but there you go.

Chuck Palahniuk is one odd fellow. Nobody can suck me into a book like he can (Lullaby went the same way--in an afternoon), but few authors make me feel so conflicted about being thoroughly consumed--honestly, the man is strange. Beyond strange. I can never decide if I like the book, or the characters, or the plot--mostly I'm just disturbed, which can be an interesting ride in itself. The entire time I'm reading one of his novels, I keep asking "what the hell..."--but I'm oddly drawn to Palahniuk. He's addictive.

At any rate, FIGHT CLUB is a much better book than movie, I thought, though the movie did a nice job preserving the feel of the book. But that damn Brad Pitt. Even though I'd never seen the movie, I kept picturing him as Tyler Durden, which is precisely why I like to read books first--so I don't picture the stupid actors while I'm reading.

My copy came complete with this marvellous introduction (my brother scrounged up a non-movie-cover edition for me as a Christmas gift, and gave it to me with a 2'-high plastic owl decoy that I named Boris and set on our front porch to scare off guests) by Palahniuk himself, that provides a bit of interesting background on the novel and the cult-phenomenon that is FIGHT CLUB. So. If you have that copy, it's an introduction worth reading. He discusses the origins of the book (started as a short story, go figure, written while Palahniuk was at work), as well as his thoughts on the movie and what it's like to write something that's been pretty well eclipsed by the movie it inspired. When a kid starts quoting FIGHT CLUB at Palahniuk, and Palahniuk calls him on it ("Hey. I wrote that book."), the kids answers, "...that was a book?"

Just so I don't leave you with a review that hardly mentions the actual novel (why bother summarizing? We all know what it's about), I'll say that the best scene, in the whole book, was the IKEA catalogue scene. I read that one over and over, and then read it out loud to Mitch when he came home--and then read it out loud to my dad, and to my brother. I mean, it's cool in the movie when they're walking through the catalogue and Edward Norton's narrating and all, but...it's just better in the book. Read it.

Especially if you've only seen the movie.

Or if you haven't seen the movie, but would like to.

Or for any reason, really. Just read the book.



Book Review: THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, by J.D. Salinger

I first read this book for a class ("Young Adult Literature" at WWU), and I'm not sure that's such a great way to go about Salinger. I mean, some books you can analyze right down to a pile of dust, and I don't think CATCHER is one of them. At any rate, I read the book in class a few years ago, and when a friend brought it up a few months back, I realized I'd forgotten pretty much everything about it except "...this kid named, Holden, right? Who says 'goddam' all the time?", so I figured I ought to embark upon that particular journey again. And so I did. And wow. I love J.D. Salinger.

What I realized, reading CATCHER the second time, is that this is the kind of book you must read at least twice--no doubt, CATCHER has now entered the rotation of Books I Reread Every Few Years--because in the first reading, you only get the gist of the story. You know not to expect a whole lot of plot (not much happens, okay? Now you know), you get all the way to the end and learn a few things about this Holden Caulfield kid, and then, when you go back to read CATCHER the second time, you can't help seeing Holden in a completely different light.

My second time through CATCHER, I realized that it was one of the saddest books I'd ever read--not Steel Magnolias sad or anything, but sad right down to my bones. I wanted to hug Holden and make things better somehow, because he's such a loveable kid, even though he's a little punk sometimes.

I don't want you thinking CATCHER is depressing, though, because it isn't. It's also laugh-out-loud funny, because Holden is just a riot--there's a lot in what he actually says, sure, but there's tons more in what he doesn't say. He's easily one of my favorite characters of all time. In fact, he might be the best ever. The scene where Holden dances with his kid sister Phoebe is wonderful--anybody with siblings should read this book.

Rereading CATCHER then sent me on this Salinger binge, which is a sad endeavor because Salinger only wrote four books (they're all skinny books, too, and only two of them are novels)--so I implore you to read Franny & Zooey, as well as Nine Stories. I'm sure Raise the Roofbeam High Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction is good too, but I wouldn't know: I've been putting off reading that one so that I can keep thinking that there's something by Salinger that I haven't read...


An excerpt from Webster's

torpedo n : 1 : an engine or machine for destroying ships by blowing them up 2 : a dirigable self-propelling cigar-shaped submarine projectile filled with an explosive charge

torpedo boat n : a boat designed for firing torpedoes; specif. : a small very fast thinly plated boat with one or more torpedo tubes

torpedo-boat destroyer n : a large, swift, and powerfully armed torpedo boat orig. intended principally for the destruction of torpedo boats but later used as a formidable torpedo boat

For a fun party trick, read this excerpt in a deadpan German accent (this works best after several glasses of wine, and the later in the evening, the better), then tape the audience response and send it to me.

(Dictionaries are fun.)


My brother-in-law built this bike

Doesn't get much cooler than that. For more pictures and all the info, click here.

Book Review: THE SOLACE OF LEAVING EARLY, by Haven Kimmel

So, anybody read Kimmel's other book, A Girl Named Zippy? Cute, sassy memoir about life as an odd-looking child in an Indianan small-town? Well, THE SOLACE OF LEAVING EARLY, Kimmel's second book/first novel, is far better, in my opinion. Though Zippy was fun and well-written, SOLACE is...whew. I need to concentrate for a moment, harness my chi before attempting to review such a gorgeous novel...

Okay. Let's go.

In SOLACE, Kimmel presents some amazingly complex characters, the sort I invariably fall for: Langston Braverman, the quirky grad-school student who walked out on her PhD finals and moved home to itty-bitty Haddington, Indiana. Mentally, she lives in a lofty space of literary theories and absolutes. Langston is quick to lecture her mother (who is marvellous, though Langston does not agree) and, though her conversations are fun to read, I am thankful that I do not know her and so have never had to engage her in any sort of discussion--in real life, I'd probably hate her, but in Kimmel's story, Langston shines.

Also, there is Amos Townsend, struggling small-town minister who has much bigger ideas about faith than he dares present to his congregation; Immaculata & Epiphany, two tiny girls damaged by the brutal death of their mother, who are left in the care of Langston and Amos (the last two, naturally, cannot stand each other).

Kimmel's writing is so dense as to be almost tangible, every character she presents I can picture perfectly. I didn't hear much hoo-ha over this one, after all the bestseller business of Zippy, but THE SOLACE OF LEAVING EARLY is one of the better books I've read recently (and I've read some good ones). And the cover is pretty.